‘Goodbye Days’ – Jeff Zentner

Can a text message destroy your life?

Carver Briggs never thought a simple text would cause a fatal crash, killing his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident and even worse, there could be a criminal investigation into the deaths.

Then Blake’s grandmother asks Carver to remember her grandson with a ‘goodbye day’ together. Carver has his misgivings, but he starts to help the families of his lost friends grieve with their own memorial days, along with Eli’s bereaved girlfriend Jesmyn. But not everyone is willing to forgive. Carver’s own despair and guilt threatens to pull him under into panic and anxiety as he faces punishment for his terrible mistake. Can the goodbye days really help?

An absorbing read, which will certainly get readers thinking about the extent to which our actions influence events. Will we blame Carver? Perhaps a little, but no more than we might blame the boy who started to reply while driving or any of the other characters involved in the story.

This could have been a very earnest story, but the question of responsibility goes hand-in-hand with showing us Carver and the families of those left behind coming-to-terms with their grief.
For me, it was this element of the story that really made this novel what it was.

I felt we really got under Carver’s skin as he goes through therapy to try to learn to live through the panic attacks that have set in since the funerals. We see his memories of the boys and get to know all of them through the ‘goodbye days’ that are set up with each of the grieving families. From Blake’s grandmother, through Eli’s parents and, finally, Mars’s father – the Judge who asked the police to consider pressing charges – these were emotionally-charged moments. Zentner gives us a slice of what these families are living through, and also helps us understand a little why they act as they do.

A cathartic, thought-provoking read that I will recommend heartily to colleagues and students alike.

A huge thank-you to NetGalley for the ARC.